This has been a big year for The PhCheese so far. Not on the blog front so much, unfortunately, but in more personal arenas.
Things have been rather silent on the blog and social media because my fiancé and I succeeded in doing something we felt would be impossible in the Seattle metro area—and yet we nevertheless tried to do, fools that we are. We bought a house! And then we had to get it ready to move into, clean it up, order utilities, and move in, unpack, and get settled.
With all of that going on within our regular work schedules, we didn’t have internet for several weeks. To make matters worse, all of that precious, limited cell phone data was reserved for getting directions on Waze as I moved about a new-to-me area.
But now I’m back! In honor of the occasion behind my silence, I’ve decided to tackle a prudent question.
When your pantry shelves are bare and the refrigerator is a blank slate, in what cheeses must you absolutely invest?
Certainly, this is a matter of taste. But there are some cheeses that we might consider “the staples.”
I tend to have dozens of cheeses chilling in our refrigerator cheese drawer. Mostly they get used up in time, although every now and then I have to do a purge and throw out some poor, lost souls.
But there are a select few cheeses that we go to over and over again in our weekly cooking routines—and those are the cheeses I’m concerned with today.
We can name those cheese staples individually, or by category.
- Hard, grating cheeses
I’m thinking specifically of Parmesan (or Parmigiano Reggiano, to be exact) here. We always have a wedge of Parm around.
But I also have a little nugget in my cheese bell year-round that adds a different flavor profile to the grating game, and his name is Belper Knolle.
You could just as easily get yourself some Piave, Pecorino Toscano, or any other hard, nutty cheese to do the same things: grate it or shred it on hot or cold foods to add a flourish of flavor.
- Crumbly cheeses
In our household, chaos ensues if we don’t have a crumbler in the fridge. Green salads and cold salads are lackluster, and lasagnas and pizzas don’t have quite the same je ne sais quoi.
Feta is our go-to crumbling cheese. But in other households, that space might be filled by goat cheese or a blue cheese.
- Creamy, spreadable cheeses
Breakfasts and lunches sometimes require something denser to spread on breads and pastries than the same ol’ butter. In those times, cream cheese could do the trick.
Or you could up the ante with a smooth, spreadable chèvre, Mascarpone, or a well-made Ricotta.
I really dig a good chèvre smeared on decent bread with a dollop of homemade preserves or lemon curd. Sunny Pines Chèvre here in Washington State is a sure thing in my refrigerator, but Cypress Grove’s chèvres are also strong contenders for the spot.
When it’s time to mix fruit in with something dairy-licious, yogurt is an OK option. But if you know me or have been following me for a while, you know that my number-one favorite creamy cheese is Ricotta, and that I can’t get enough of Bellwether Farms’ to-die-for version—plain out of the basket or mixed with whatever fruit is in season.
- Melting cheeses
Sometimes it’s an emergency grilled cheese or tuna melt sandwich; others, it’s leftover casserole time. Or, if you’re like me and you grew up in the Southwest, cheese crisps, quesadillas, tacos, and burritos are on the menu pretty regularly.
You need a good melting cheese that adds depth of flavor and texture when heated. Creamy Cheddars and Alpine cheeses are the right choice in these cases. (Although let’s face it: cheese in general is always the right choice.)
We like to have a block of Coastal Cheddar in the fridge throughout the spring and summer. In the fall and winter, that Cheddar is likely also hanging out with Gruyère or one of its relatives.
Washed-rind cheeses and bloomy-rind cheeses are also great melters, but you want to eat them and get them in and out of your refrigerator as quickly as possible. You can sit on that Cheddar for three months and it will probably be just fine, but your wedge of Willoughby is going to be furiously funky—and definitely hideous—if you put it on the backburner for a couple of months.
Now, I’m not suggesting you get the staple cheeses and hoard them in your refrigerator or Cheese Grotto for months on end. Buy cheese, use it, eat it. Repeat.
If you won’t eat much of a given cheese and don’t want it to go south on you, ask your cheesemonger to cut you a smaller portion. Or get creative and force yourself to find new ways to cook with cheeses you wouldn’t normally think to cook with. (“Kitchen sink” macaroni and cheese is a thing we cheesemongers know all too well with good reason: sometimes you just need to use up all the cheese in one fell swoop.)
Have I missed anything you believe should be a staple cheese? Or are yours different from mine? I want to know! Feel free to send me a message or leave a comment below.